In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor
Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of
Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis,
and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and
Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He
went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance
for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the
prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the
way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and
every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made
straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation
The Incarnation is the mystery that God intervened in
human history. The Evangelist of today’s gospel, St. Luke, was a historian. For
historians, time is very important in their study of history. There was not
universal calendar at that time. So, St. Luke tried to pinpoint the exact year
of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry by mentioning several well-known
authorities who were in office at that time in verses 1 to 3 of today’s gospel.
With these well-known authorities at that time in
Palestine, the general consensus today is that John the Baptist began to preach
in the year around 28 to 29 AD. Therefore, it was the same year when Jesus
began his public ministry. This is important in the sense that the Incarnation
was a historical event taken place in Palestine at that particular time. It is
not an invention of human mind.
St. Luke has already told us who John was in chapter
one. The significance of today’s gospel relating to John is “the words of the
prophet Isaiah”: “was in the desert until the day of his manifestations to
Israel” (1:80). Here we are told that this day has now come and that John has
received his heavenly call to the office of precursor – the one who was to
prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah.
John’s mission was to preach repentance to get the
people to turn to God, and as it was customary with the Jews to go through
external rites of washing to represent the interior cleansing of the heart and
mind, John chose the Jordan banks to conduct the rite of washing as a token of
repentance. In fact, it was not his choice at all, but God’s providence,
because it was the only river in southern Palestine.
In addition to administer the rite of repentance
washing, John also preached. He preached by saying that he was the fulfillment
of what the prophet Isaiah had foretold concerning the expected Messiah (Isaiah
40:3-5), which meant that he was sent to get the people ready for the one who
was to come.
The meaning of the verse “prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight…” is to tell people the one who was to come is an
important person, a person with high authority. In ancient Palestine, when a
king or a person of high authority was to visit another king or dignity, the
host sent his slaves to level the paths and to smooth the road for the camels.
Isaiah used these words to describe how the royal Messiah should be received.
Moreover, Isaiah followed the promise given to
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 12:3; 26:4, and 28:14) sees the future
Messiah as the Savior not only of the Chosen People but of all nations.
Finally, today’s gospel tells us that salvation can
only come from God because the human race, because of its sinfulness, had
abandoned God and could not return to Him of its own strength. The infinite
love and mercy of God went in search of the lost sheep and through the Good
Shepherd, the Messiah, brought mankind back once more to the true fold.
Today, we can ask ourselves how we should prepare
ourselves if the welcome we give our Savior is to be sincere and true. We will
have to admit that our paths – our dealing with God – over the past 12 months
have been far from straight and smooth. At the same time, we might feel ashamed
of our meanness and our ingratitude towards the good God to whom we owe
everything we have.
Let us humbly beat our breast and admit our meanness
so that we can lower the mountains of selfish pride and fill up the valleys of
laziness and forgetfulness by turning to Him with hearts full of gratitude and
repentance because we believe that there will be mercy in abundance even for
the greatest sinner among us. Amen.